What do you get if you combine “Night of the Living Dead” with “Snakes on a Plane”? OK, too easy, I know.
George Romero’s 1968, super-low-budget “Night of the Living Dead” was a landmark motion picture that helped create a whole subgenre of zombie films, and the 2006 thriller “Snakes on a Plane” was at the least good campy fun. It should come as no surprise that New Line Home Entertainment distributes both “Snakes on a Plane” and “Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane,” but what differentiates them immediately is that while “Snakes” starred Samuel L. Jackson, “Flight” stars David Chism, and while New Line had enough confidence in “Snakes” to distribute it theatrically, the studio is sending “Flight” directly to video. Those differences alone might tell you all you need to know about “Flight of the Living Dead.”
Still, it’s hard to keep zombie flicks down, especially if you view them as purely tongue-in-cheek, and this one is not entirely without merit. What’s more, it’s the Unrated Edition. Yeah, well, that’s probably a part of the joke. There is only one edition, and this is it. The reason it’s unrated has nothing to do with its being sexier, bloodier, or more violent than a rated counterpart; it’s because New Line didn’t submit the film to the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating board. The fact is, the film contains no sex or nudity, and the violence is so exaggerated as to be more funny than frightening. So, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the “unrated” business.
The movie begins with some very loud, very noisy soundtrack music playing behind a big Shirley Bassey-James Bond sort of title sequence, with images of blood and internal organs substituting for scantily clad young models. From that point on, things start going downhill.
The good-humored title says just about everything about the plot. On a flight from the U.S. to Paris, an airliner is carrying a top-level government shipment requiring an armed guard. Seems a group of mad scientists have worked out a procedure for bringing the dead back to life, and the military wants to use it to resurrect fallen soldiers. But the procedure is risky because it involves injecting the recently dead with a virus that the resuscitated body can pass on to other people. Oh, and it produces a zombie with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. But, you knew that.
So, these scientists have brought such a body (Sarah Laine) onboard (for reasons never clear), and halfway through the flight, it comes back to life. Then, all hell breaks loose on the plane as the communications system goes haywire, and the deceased infects first the guard and then most of the passengers and crew. But you knew that, too. It becomes a little like Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”/”And Then There Were None,” only with a growing number of very active zombies instead of inanimate corpses hanging around.
The filmmakers might well have titled their movie “Stereotypes on a Plane,” given the number of clichéd characters we meet. The hero is a cop, Truman Burrows (David Chism), who is taking a prisoner named Frank (Kevin J. O’Connor) to face trial in Paris for conning people, including mobsters, out of quite a lot of dough. Burrows is appropriately macho, so macho that when he’s knocked unconscious by an accidental blow to the head (letting his prisoner escape), he wakes up in about two minutes and without a moment’s hesitation and with no apparent ill effects begins his pursuit of the escapee. I mean, I thought that only happened in old cowboy pictures. Frank, on the other hand, is clearly a bad guy because he looks so much like a bad guy. In fact, O’Connor is the best part of the show, playing his character as a cross between charming and creepy.
Then we find that every stewardess, er, flight attendant, is beautiful, young, and shapely, starting with the film’s heroine, Megan (Kristen Kerr). The captain (Raymond Barry) is grey-haired and sturdy, but his copilot (Todd Babcock) is young and studly. Then there’s a handsome, young golfing pro, Longshot Billy (Derek Webster), patterned after Tiger Woods, who is never without his beautiful, young wife or his beautiful, all-purpose putter; plus, there’s a quartet of young, attractive, airheaded twenty-somethings; and even an attractive young nun. Have I mentioned that most of the characters on this plane are young? And attractive?
Of more importance, there’s a TSA agent aboard (Richard Tyson) and the aforementioned mad scientists, chief among them a Dr. Bennett (Erick Avari), whom we know is a mad scientist because, uh, well, because he looks so much like one.
Although the director, Scott Thomas (“Yesterday’s Dream,” “Latin Dragon”), tries to have it both ways–to be as subtly spoofy as possible yet keep everything on as serious a note as possible–I’d swear the whole movie plays like the first “Airplane!” parody, especially the shots of the jetliner going through a storm (which is most of the film). What I’d like to have seen, though, was a different cast. As I was watching it, I envisioned Leslie Nielsen as the pilot, Robert Hays as the cop, Steve Buscemi as the prisoner, Julie Hagerty as the stewardess, Meat Loaf Aday as the TSA agent, and Tim Curry as the mad scientist. The rest is just makeup.
Anyway, the throat-ripping begins about thirty minutes into the story and then never lets up. The blood flows like, like, er, like blood. The herrings are plenty. Bloody red herrings. There are some cool shots of zombies getting blown away. And you’ll recognize various borrowings from “Dr. No,” “Flight Plan,” “Airport,” even “Alien” in the mix.
Here are some things I never understood about zombie movies in general: Like, why is it that zombies are always so hungry for human flesh? Why don’t they eat one another? And how can they eat so much and never get full? Are they all stomach? And how can they gnaw through solid bone and bite somebody’s leg off? Could you do that? I couldn’t do that. And how can a zombie tell another zombie from a regular living person? Is it the smell? Then, about this particular movie: Why do these zombies’ eyes turn yellow after they die? Did they see that in other zombie movies? Why do these zombies get two or three times stronger once they’re dead than when they were alive? And why do they move at lightning speed instead of ambling slowly along like normal, real-life zombies?
Yes, these are the questions that keep a person up at night. Wondering why in the world you still get suckered into watching these harebrained flicks.
The picture quality varies almost from shot to shot–from bright, crystalline, and well defined to dim, soft, and fuzzy. Grain and screen noise are never an issue as the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is generally clean and clear. But I couldn’t help noticing my DVD player’s bit-rate meter fluctuating quite a lot from well above average to well below average every few minutes. So, you get video that differs as the compression levels change. However, for this type of film and for a direct-to-video offering, I suppose the picture quality is just fine.
Now, the audio is a much better proposition than the video, and one can hardly fault it. First off, you get a choice of your favorite format: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS-ES 6.1, or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo . As I said earlier, the sound is loud, no matter what the format, I’m sure, with loads of dynamic range, transient impact, deep, rumbling bass, and rear-speaker effects. Gunshots and explosions show authority, and the side-to-side front-channel spread can’t be beat. Since such robust audio is exactly what’s needed in this kind of exaggerated horror film, I can’t complain.
The main extras are a pair of audio commentaries. The first is with director Scott Thomas and producer David Shoshan, who in the few minutes I listened to them seemed fairly serious in their explanations and descriptions of the filmmaking. The second commentary is with IGN.com editors Steven Horn, Eric Moro, and Christopher Monfette. They take a much lighter approach, and I enjoyed the short time I spent with them. In addition, we get a three-minute outtakes reel; twenty scene selections but no chapter insert; Sneak Peeks (at start-up and in the menu) at half a dozen other New Line products; English as the only spoken language; and English and Spanish subtitles.
Even though “Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane” is a cute and clever title, it’s not enough around which to build an entire movie. The film is much too silly to be scary and much too prosaic to be funny. The highlights of the show are a couple of interesting camera shots and the final ten minutes of action, which may not seem like a lot, but with a show like this, you’ve got to take what you can get.